A lot of people equate being a leader with being a boss. They could not be more wrong. We’ve written about leadership in the past — we know how important effective and true leadership is — “[Leadership] isn’t about the titles, or even the accolades. Effective leadership is much more meaningful, impactful and profound. It’s earned and worked for. There is no set formula or step-by-step plan, it depends on the culture and needs of the organization.” There couldn’t be a more accurate statement. Being a leader means having a profound impact on one’s self, but also more importantly, on others — and by extension, the organization or group you belong to. It’s more than just handing out orders or delegating / assigning tasks.
How to be a leader: Establishing the basics
And so the next question would naturally be how to be a leader — an effective and efficient one at that.
>> Recommended reading: Best Qualities of a Good Leader and 5 Steps to Becoming
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Let’s take a closer look at how to be a leader. To start with, leadership can be learned. Everyone can be a good leader, provided they have the right attitude and the right mindset for it. A FastCompany article, quoting Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, says, “Contrary to the opinion of many people, leaders are not born. Leaders are made, and they are made by effort and hard work.” It’s all in the mind. And it’s not just about “owning” it, but really internalizing what it means to be a leader and how to lead people.
But some people are natural leaders, meaning they naturally have what it takes to lead people. But again, you cannot simply “wing” leadership. A lot goes into leading effectively and leading sufficiently to make a significant enough contribution to an organization. And again, you must understand, leadership isn’t simply about literally “taking the lead” by getting people to do your bidding, or having people follow your orders, or having an office of your own. Leadership can be stressful and complicated, and entails hard work. But the rewards leadership has — both for yourself and the organization — more than make up for all the effort you need to put in.
A good and effective leader inspires and motivates. He or she doesn’t even need to order people around, most times. Everyone is driven to do what needs to be done — and go even beyond what is required. That’s because a leader sets the example. He or she sets the standard, which isn’t just doing what’s mandatory; leadership is about looking at the bigger picture, looking at what can make the most and the biggest positive impact. Leadership guru John C. Maxwell says it best: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
Having good leaders is integral to a company or organizations success; that’s why everyone should try to learn how to be a good leader, because in the long run, it spells success for everyone involved.
Characteristics of a good leader
We’ve mentioned before that good and effective leadership entails a change in mindset. That means internalizing the qualities of a good leader. Here are some characteristics to keep in mind if you want to learn how to be a leader — one that’s effective and a credit to himself / herself and the organization.
1. Honest and trustworthy
There really is no going around it — honesty IS the best policy when you want to learn how to be a leader. Who would want to follow (willingly, at least) someone who cannot be trusted, someone who says one thing and does another? Lies, deceit and manipulation are hardly attractive qualities even in people who aren’t aspiring to lead, what more in someone who wants to? No real success is possible without honesty, trustworthiness and integrity. You can hardly expect to trust people if you can do the same for them. A significant part of how to be a leader is giving, and that means what you give, you receive in turn (in general). So if you’re dishonest with people, expect the same from them.
A study published by the Harvard Business Review cites a “high ethical and moral standards” as the top attribute a leader should have. The study is taken from 195 global leaders, a testament to the legitimacy of the results. A high level of ethics and morals means creating an atmosphere and culture where respect, fairness, honor, honesty, and integrity are welcome. Workplaces with this kind of culture are some of the most successful in the world, since everyone can be at ease, free to attend to the task at hand instead of wasting valuable time worrying about backbiting and office politics.
2. Good communication skills
Poor communication leads to poor outcomes. And this doesn’t mean being good at speeches — many people are good at talking, but fail miserably when it is time to walk the talk, so to speak. It doesn’t matter how good your words are or even how charismatic you are if you can’t deliver when it is time to take action.
Good communication also means being able to listen. Not all good ideas come from the top. Many who truly and genuinely listen to rank-and-file are surprised to see how insightful they can be, especially when armed with the right information. Learning how to be a leader entails learning to get over pride (which is a dangerous thing to have in the first place) and being open-minded to suggestions from others, as well as receiving (constructive) criticism.
Good leadership, and with it, good communication, foster a sense of belonging within and organization and can do wonders to motivate others and drive them to become more productive.
3. Clear, concise, and organized
Time and time again it’s been said that communication is key to any relationship. And so the same is true when it comes to leadership. Leaders should clearly communicate goals, tasks, intentions, and even vision. It’s tough to follow when things are vague and disorganized. It’s important that everyone is one the same page so that everyone moves in unison toward a goal (or goals).
It’s also essential to have a good grasp of what’s on one’s plate, and know what needs to be done in order to see things through. We’re probably all known someone who runs around like a headless chicken, only to leaving mess and unfinished business in the end. Organization means knowing what, when, and how to do things. It means attention to detail and leaving no stone unturned. It means checking and double checking. Speed means nothing if the end product is flawed and / or incorrect. Organization means being able to accomplish things efficiently because there is a system that has been developed and improved over time that does its best not to waste anyone’s time, resources, and effort. In the end, this means meeting goals, or even achieving more than what you expected, which is always a good thing. Organized leaders know what’s happening around them, so even though they’re caught off-guard, they’re equipped to deal with it.
4. Flexible and decisive
Which brings us to this inescapable fact: Unexpected things happen. More often than not, plans can go awry and things don’t always turn up the way you expect. Good leaders can think on their feet and are always ready to adjust when needed. Inflexibility leads to indecisiveness, which is frankly, unproductive. This is not to say that one should always jump to do the first thing that springs to mind when things don’t go as planned — it simply means that knowing when, where and how to act is the hallmark of a good leader. Flexibility also means being able to see opportunity and grab it; more often than not, great opportunities cannot be predicted, but many miss out on them because they just want to stick to something comfortable and routine. Good and true leaders are always on the lookout for better things for themselves, their team and their organization, and are prepared to act accordingly when they find it.
It’s hard to lead when you’re simply doing things “because it’s my job”. Leaders are passionate, not just about what they do, but also about people, about the organization. It wouldn’t make sense for leaders to not care; and people who don’t care never become true leaders and never leave a positive mark. They are always on the fringes, never really amounting to anything because they never really care enough to contribute more than what they are expected (and paid) to do. It’s also hard to follow leaders who aren’t passionate — passion is infectious. It can serve not only as a drive and motivator for yourself, but also for the people around you. Channeled and focused properly, passion is an essential factor in accomplishing things — and accomplishing them well.
6. Uses the right tools
Good leaders know what tools to use to get the job done, and done well. An excellent example of such a tool is Runrun.it’s Smart Time Tracking, which provides a holistic view of how time is spent. You’ll be able to see how much time people are spending on a specific task. It’s a great way of streamlining timesheet processing, but more importantly, it helps leaders pinpoint which projects or tasks may need more (or less) time than expected, and make adjustments accordingly. Knowing how time is used is key to better understanding an organization’s workflow and keeping things running smoothly and efficiently.
And then there’s the useful Dashboard feature, which gives leaders access to even larger array of workflow and task data. The system is designed so that information can be pulled-up quickly, allowing leaders to see a better overview of how things are running and functioning in real-time. This in turn leads to more informed decisions and can also serve as a deterrent for any possible problems or issues down the road.